The xA we tested showed clever strategic investing on the part of Scion engineers. Though costs are visibly controlled in most places, money has been lavished (relatively speaking) on the points where you contact the car. The wraparound seats are positively sporting in how firm and supportive they feel, the steering is taut, linear, and properly weighted, and the shifter has a smooth accuracy many pricier Toyotas lack. So the car imparts an immediate sense of quality and refinement, despite its humble pricing.
With only 108 horsepower on call, the xA's acceleration won't exactly knock your Skechers off. The firmly tuned chassis, however, does provide that happily tossable attitude that can make even low-power cars fun to tear about in. MacPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam rear axle promise cost and space efficiency over sheer handling prowess; yet, spring and damping rates have been set on the stiff side, and geometry and cornering toe control add stability and poise. Quick-ratio (17.5:1) power rack-and-pinion steering bends the little Scion into corners with delightful accuracy and feedback.
Not that the engine is a disappointment. The light and efficient 1.5-liter twin-cam four uses variable valve timing and a spring-loaded bypass valve in the muffler to boost and spread its output. It revs with such sweet abandon that, again, it offers driving enjoyment out of all proportion to its on-paper specs. It helps to have only 2340 pounds of mass to propel, and, at our test track, the xA scampered to 60 mph in a reasonable 9.4 seconds. For this CARB-certified Low Emission Vehicle, Toyota projects EPA mileage ratings of 31 city/37 highway; we saw 30 mpg winding the thing at a sustained 85 mph down Interstate 5, returning from the San Francisco launch.
A laudable 62-mph run through our slalom test (putting the Scion ahead of the Jaguar X-Type, Mazda Miata, and every Kia we've tested) confirms the impression of chuckability on the street. The firm chassis tune gives stability and communicates a clear sense of the road surface and combines with 185/60R15 tires (modestly aggressive for its weight and by Toyota standards) to invite a spirited go any time the road turns playful. Think Mini Cooper without the harshness or Civic Si in three-quarter scale.
We can't predict whether youngsters, in particular, will warm to the look of the Scions, but most people on the road seem to. The straight-sided xB is quite polarizing, but the xA has a distinctiveness that our informal research identified as broadly appealing. It has something of the same aero-breadvan shape that Toyota's Matrix uses to get a sporty look with great interior space efficiency. To our eyes, the Scion treatment is cleaned up as well as scaled down and looks notably more simple, honest, and handsome than the Matrix. The pronounced wheel arches suggest sportiness, the wedge nose is modern, and the gently falling roofline gives a subtle sense of forward motion. It looks good, which is especially hard to manage in a short (93.3-inch wheelbase) package that has to be roomy and flexible inside.